“I have sailed the world, beheld its wonders ,
From the Dardenells, to the mountains of Peru,
But there’s no place like London!”
Ah, London… There’s really no place quite like it.
Before I start waxing lyrical about this city, let me clear the confusion over my chosen hashtag for this trip. Yes I am aware that #50DaysofEuropeSummer is not exactly an accurate description – if I were to get slightly pedantic about this I would’ve settled with #36DaysofSpring14DaysofEuropeSummer (which doesn’t have a nice ring to it, besides spoiling the intended reference to the film). Summer, in all its warmth and glory, only truly happened on the last 2 weeks of the trip so it was still, technically, Spring in London when we arrived. But because the main reason for this trip was my Summer School Exchange in France, I decided to cut the hassle and lump it in the one season – Summer!
We arrived in London on a typical British afternoon; gloomy, wet, & drizzling. Still, London greeted us in the loveliest way. As I stepped out of Heathrow Airport, a cool gust of wind hit my face, sending a shiver and a smile as I drank in the first of its promising sights and sounds. Natural air-con weather > humid horror back in Singapore, anytime! I was enthralled, intensely, by the surroundings that first welcomed me as I stood at the traffic junction just across Hammersmith station; the red London bus, the phonebooths, the rain-washed streets, the people huddled in coats.. it’s like a snapshot off a living and breathing book.
Our London stay was perfect. Marie, our b&b host, warmly welcomed us with tea and biscuits, and made us feel instantly at home. Breakfasts prepared by her were always a generous spread of toasts, a variety of jams, cornflakes, orange juice, tea, etc. Can’t get any more English than that! Her darling black and white cat named Charlie was around to keep us company. Right outside our room is the view of her delightful little backyard where a fox would occasionally visit. For a moment, I felt like I was living in an Enid Blyton book.
Speaking of books, the book that was keeping me company throughout was Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel. He covered most of the cities I visited on this trip, and some of his observations hit me right on the head and managed to evoke a strange, comforting connection. I doubt it would’ve enlightened and stirred something within me if I had chosen to read it at home instead. If you need a book to spark your wanderlust/ bring on your next trip, then this is the perfect read!
|Marie’s backyard, aka a scene from ‘The Peculiar Fox in The Backyard & Other Stories’ by Enid Blyton (coming to a bookstore near you)|
Our apartment is located conveniently near the gorgeous stretch of Portobello Road Market, adjacent to the famous and modern residential area of Notting Hill~
|United Colours of Notting Hill Houses|
|One of the quirky, vintage shops along the stretch of Portobello Road|
|Hummingbird Bakery – well-known for its cupcakes & pastries|
I just can’t get enough of the market and its vintage bargains. So in love with this area!
Now just to give a feel of London Underground and its views… I thought it best if I allow Mr Croll to bring you around town so you can see for yourself its surroundings (you can also see cute gran) (and cute brother)
London really does feel like home sometimes…
So anyway, this was my London in 5 days:
|Artsy fartsy Brick Lane smartsy|
|Some of ’em nosh.. bought that red velvet whoopie pie the size of a fist!|
|Rough Trade – a haven for all indie music lovers. (Photo credit: Ruzanna)|
Woke up on a fairly sunny Sunday feeling all chuffed and ready to explore. The day’s plan was to visit east London. Brick Lane on a Sunday is a must. It’s where it’s at; the spot where all the young, hip, and fashionable junkies conglomerate. For the lack of a better analogy, it’s like Haji Lane on steroids. Throngs of dapper, well-dressed people, rows of delicacies from all over the world, vintage clothes, an assortment of trinkets and bric-a-brac, etc. I even had a Malaysian apple & cinnamon flavoured apam balik because I was curious as to how the ones sold in London would taste (alas, they taste the same). Just around the corner is Rough Trade, an independent record store in London. I was this close to getting my hands on Bombay Bicycle Club’s vinyl, but restrained myself from spending over the budget, in order to survive the rest of my stay.
|Picture perfect London skies. Greetings from Great Britain!|
|The Tower Bridge, often mistaken for the London Bridge|
|The quintessential red phonebooth punctuating the streets of London|
|Lazing around the field outside Tate Modern|
Went all touristy on a lovely Monday morning. The only Monday blues that happened was the bright blue skies and fluffy clouds. We got a brilliant tip from Marie who told us, “Don’t take the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour – it’s a bloody rip-off. Just take the tube and alight at Westminster station. Exit the station and you can see the London Eye, Big Ben, walk down the South Bank, past some bridges and you can reach Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, and then walk even further and you can see London Bridge or is it Tower Bridge? Ah there’s just too many bloody bridges in London you’ll know when you walk down..”
4 underground stations, 4 hours of walking, and 2 pairs of aching legs later, we completed our mission of visiting 60% of London’s attractions without spending a single penny. Huzzah! I still don’t understand how people do it when they say “You only need 5 days or less in London to see everything!”. I spent 5 days in London and I haven’t even seen half of it. Perhaps I need to plan out my itinerary better the next time. There’s still so much more to see and do. I’d say I need about 2 weeks at least. But I guess if you’re as efficient as Charlie, then 2 hours would suffice:
|Perpetually crowded Oxford Street|
Spent a good half of the day over at Oxford Street, the busiest shopping district in London. Went crazy at Topshop, River Island, and of course, the unrivaled four-storeyed madness and mayhem that is Primark – relatively inexpensive and chock-a-block with things you mostly do not need. My best buy yet has got to be the Union Jack onesie which I got for just 11 pounds! If you haven’t already know, it’s totally in. Go youtube “Ryan Gosling’s Big Gift” where he rocks his onesie while working out and makes it a fashion statement like no other.
For the rest of the day, I wandered around Oxford Street alone, weaving through the crowds in a dreamlike state. You know when you’re listening to your favourite track while walking down a particular place, feeling like you’re a star in your own film? That was a momentary movie moment right there for me. The feeling of getting lost in a foreign place, blending in the sea of strangers, where you don’t know anyone, and no one knows you.. that feeling is pretty darn amazing.
|Impeccable strawberry green tea cake & a cuppa with an old friend at Monocle Cafe|
|221b Baker Street!|
Fun fact #1: I only just recently completed watching the TV series of Sherlock Holmes and now I’m keeling over with imponderable excitement and anticipation for the next season like an obsessed. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Fun Fact #2: the Sherlock Holmes fever hasn’t hit me entirely when I was there in London, so this museum went unvisited.
Fun Fact #3: Therefore, I need to go back and check this museum out for real.
|The most expensive Nasi Goreng Kampung I’ve ever had in my entire life = $16 SGD/plate
*wallet-tearing sounds* *heart-shattering noises*
That night, we decided not to settle for mediocrity (the food that we have had so far has been all but subpar – including their fish & chips), so we went full-on tai tai at a Halal Malaysian Restaurant sequestered somewhere in the area of Bayswater. That’s some overpriced Asian food to satisfy the tummy for a while.
|At the grounds of Stamford Bridge|
What’s a trip to London without some football frenzy? Visited the stadiums of Arsenal and Chelsea, and even got the chance to speak to Tony Adams (which I only just realized a day after that he is quite THE legend) whilst queuing to get in. The conversation went something like:-
Tony: Where are you from?
Tony: Ah, Singapore… I’ve played against Singapore before.
Us: *smiles and nods*
Oddly enough, it didn’t occur to us then that he was in a team from Arsenal and they have played against Singapore. A quick Google check later informed me that he is the former captain of England. Friendly chap this Tony.
After the stadium visits, we tubed down to St John’s Wood station to cross the iconic Abbey Road – at peak hour – only to find 10 other trigger happy tourists crossing tirelessly back and forth to recreate that perfect Beatles’ album cover shot, and much to the dismay and aggravation of the drivers. We ignored the honks and potential cursing under the breaths and happily joined the crossing troop. While we were crossing to and fro, we might’ve gotten a few drivers, well, cross (pun intended).
|Prayer area in London Central Mosque|
Decided to walk further down the area to the London Central Mosque where we met a nice lady who showed us around. Had cheap Indian food at the basement level, and did our prayers. Never felt such tranquility and peace in a foreign land. Blessed.
Bookshop-hopping day (!!!) There are more than a hundred bookshops in London, but I only managed to properly visit four. It’s not easy to cover a target number of bookshops per day, factoring in the time taken to travel and the time spent in one! So it’s pretty much mission impossible to visit all the bookshops in London.
Nevertheless, here are the bookshops we managed to cover:
|Book & Kitchen @ Notting Hill|
A bookshop specializing in the literary & culinary.
|Books for Cooks @ Notting Hill|
Pretty self-explanatory, this bookshop’s well-known for its quality cookbooks!
|National Theatre Bookshop @ South Bank|
Specializes in theatre books, amongst other fiction selection.
|The Notting Hill Bookshop @ Notting Hill|
It’s THE Notting Hill bookshop! The one featured in the film starring Hugh Grant & Julia Roberts! Got to know from the shopkeeper that the one in the film though, was just a replica of this bookshop… however, the author of the book still lives around the area! Neat collection. There’s also an entire room full of shelves carrying children’s book and toys, right inside.
|Interior of Notting Hill Bookshop|
|London Review Bookshop @ Bury|
One of the best independent bookshops, offering a range of topics from history, arts, literature, politics, and more. There’s even a cosy cake shop right beside, perfect for settling down with a cup of tea, a slice of cake, and a newly acquired paperback!
|Skoob Books @ Marchmont Street|
Went bookshit cray at this treasure trove of second hand books! This place is a must-visit, especially if you’re a sucker for dusty old books snugly housed in every nook. Shelves after shelves of classic Penguins & Pelicans… I can spend the entire day in this gem.
|Such a cosy spot. I just want to keep this place in my pocket.|
|Word on the Water @ Paddington|
Hands down the most unique bookshops I’ve seen so far – London’s gorgeous floating bookshop! This place is hard to miss. It’s located right outside Paddington station.
So that’s the end of my bookshop-hopping adventures in London for now. Managed to visit a total of 7 bookshops, and bagged home 4 books altogether. Happy bookworm is happy!
Before departing for France that night, we had fun exploring the Harry Potter shop at King’s Cross Station, and of course, have a photo taken at the famous Platform 9 3/4:
|Alohomora~ The Harry Potter Shop – a magical place for all things witchy & wizardy|
|Catch you lot of muggles later 😉|
And just like that, it was already time to leave. Out of all the cities I’ve been to on this trip, I must say that London is my personal favourite. There is a certain character and uniqueness to this city; a melting pot of cultures and ethnic diversity, heaving with interesting places and a multitude of things to see and do. Perhaps a huge part of me feels this way because I am, I discover, quite a city girl at heart – getting lost in a city full of strangers, admiring the architecture, art & history of a particular place, gently weaving through the crowds, and dreaming as I move.
You might say I’m a tad too smitten and giddy with love, which could possibly be clouding my judgement but trust me, this city’s given me such a good first impression that I’m sure this fondness will last for a very long time.
London is charming to a fault, and I’m glad this city that I have always dreamed of visiting, lived up to my expectations. I’ll always have a soft spot for it, the weather, the vibes, and the things it reminds me of. That’s why I decided to make a brief compilation of…
Top 10 Reasons why London Deserves My Love:
1) No language barrier. Everyone speaks English so there’s no problem in communication, making getting around a lot easier.
2) Safest city amongst all the other cities I’ve been to in Europe so far.
3) Layer weather all day every day (and you know I love my jackets).
4) The use of terms of endearment like ‘love’ and ‘darling’ by shopkeepers and strangers alike. It just makes you feel, well, loved.. which noticeably isn’t the norm back home.
5) This is probably gonna come across as a shallow reason to love the city but, really, it’s unfair how people here are so good-looking, what’s up with that? And with a spiffy dress code to boot?! Hur hur.
6) Friendly people. All my encounters with the Londoners have been nothing but pleasant. Thankfully there was none of those brusqueness that managed to ruin my experience!
7) The smexy, posh-sounding accent. I know I’m not supposed to be biased when it comes to accents and grammar and all that stuff I’ve learnt in my field but I just can’t help it. I blame this on television, The Beatles, Alex Turner, and the Queen.
8) The architectural beauty I see at every turn and every corner (it’s a refreshing change from the rectangular boxes of high-rise flats you see scattered in Singapore)
9) Ridiculously awesome vintage markets and fleas that I can never get enough of. I wonder how much crazier I’d get and how much more broke I’d be if I were to visit Camden and Borough!
10) The beautiful bookshops. ‘Nuff said.
My 5 days in London have been nothing short of brilliant. Already planning on the activities I missed out for my future visit, like visiting the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Studio, catching a musical, checking out the Natural History Museum, picnicking at Hyde Park.. & travel up further to Bath, Sheffield, and Liverpool too if there’s a chance. Hopefully a post-graduation trip back here someday would materialize.
Till then, I’ll be missing London dearly… (for I left a part of me somewhere in the heart of the city).
Next stop: Paris. To meet fellow summer school mates at Charles De Gaulle (CDG) Airport before scooting off to Troyes, where the summer exchange university is at. Psyched to visit the other city of my dreams! I’ve enjoyed every bit of London. Pretty sad to be leaving.
But my adventure’s only just begun…